:: dreaming of schemes ::

The musings, politics, frustrations and triumphs of an extrovertedly introverted musician from Philadelphia, PA.

Next shows: Blue Scheme: Wed., November 12 (blue scheme on last), Grape Street Pub [Manayunk], w/Lazlo and Secret Society, 105 Grape St., Philadelphia, $5, 21+, Doors at 9:00 pm
Wed., November 19 (blue scheme on first) Malokai's/Club 218 South [Center City], w/TBA 218 South St., Philadelphia $6, 21+, Doors at 9:00 pm
Fri., November 21 (blue scheme on second) Tokio Ballroom [Center City], w/Wellstar and Heather G 122 Lombard St., Philadelphia $5, 21+. Doors at 8:00 pm
Yellow Brain: Saturday, December 27, Fergie's Pub, 1214 Sansom, Philadelphia, 9:30pm

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April 28, 2003

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:: Friday, May 16, 2003 ::

Did you fire your advertising agency today?

This has bothered me for a long, long time. Please bear with me. I just needed to get this out.

"Did You Boscov Today?" is one of the stupidest things anyone, anywhere has ever concocted at any time.

I can't even read it without feeling embarrassed.

Does anyone else hate this slogan as much as me? For God's sake, "Boscov" is NOT a verb! If I look in the dictionary, I (hope I) won't see:

boscov (bäs' käv)


variations: boscoved, boscoving, boscovs

1. To shop at Boscov's.

2. To engage in a Boscov-related activity.

And if they're going to make Boscoving a word, does it have an apostrophe or not? "Boscov'ing" has an apostrophe in the first paragraph, but if you scroll down to the area marked Featuring, and look under Free Bonus, the apostrophe has mysteriously disappeared. Presumably because it decided that Boscoving was too stupid a word to hang around in.

Boscov'ing looks like a rejected Klingon name from Star Trek. Then again, Boscov-ing doesn't look much better.

Boscov'ing sounds like something you and four friends do in a back of a van that involves copious amounts of Schlitz (not to be confused with Schmidt's, that other high quality brew—interestingly enough, both of them are brewed by the Pabst company), yak butter, duct tape and Tums. Hopefully, no one ever speaks of it again.

I don't know if this is still the case, but apparently at least at one time, according to this site, April was Boscov's Did-You-Boscov-Today Month (look at the end of the fourth line to the fifth line).

Everyone, let's pray. Because this is truly a sign of the impending Apocalypse.

:: Anam 5:14 PM [+] ::

Go Nammy, it's it was your birthday; Kangol, Mr. Sophisticata; "Pressing" issues

So yesterday was my birthday. It was relatively uneventful. Many friends wished me well and sent cards. I ran into my ex-girlfriend and the first thing she said was happy birthday, which caught me off guard. She'd tried to send a card online, but I think she may have gotten my e-mail address wrong. No matter—the thought in itself was certainly nice.

I took my mother out for lunch at a Thai restaurant for Mother's Day, and we had a good time. I hadn't really spent much time with just her in a long while so it was good to have that time with her. We walked around the city for a little bit, and we stopped in to a store where she bought a cologne for me that she knows I like.

And a red Kangol.

My mother, knowing that I tend to exist primarily in the land of neutrals, cold darks and grays (today I'm wearing olive green and gray—see what I mean?), does her best to bring me into the world of warm, bright, vibrant color. The funny thing is that I actually seem able to pull it off. I've never really looked at myself as the kind of guy who could get away with it, even semi-occasionally. But generally if I go for something a little different every other now and again (as opposed to plain-old now and again), it probably makes a stronger statement. Or if not a stronger statement, at least a surprise to those that know me.

Kangols never really seem to go completely out of style. They were either in, such as when they were first popular, and then they just go out. But things that are out of style can be appropriated to "in-ness." What have I learned from men's, women's and entertainment rags, er, mags? That there are three levels of status: In, Five Minutes Ago, and Out (I'd provide a link to a definite example, but I just figured I'd let you put "Jessica Shaw" into Google and allow you to choose from the available poisons, vitriol, and assorted soporifica). My hypothesis is that Kangols are never Five Minutes Ago, and therefore are always wearable. You just have to understand what you're trying to convey from a fashion standpoint.

Ah, forget it. This is so superficial I can barely believe I'm talking about it, but hey, a birthday without a little superficiality is like Philadelphia without a little corruption.

I don't really know much about fashion except for what I look good in. So that's probably good enough for me. Sometimes it takes repeated tries in front of the mirror to convince myself, but if I can't get away with it after a week, it's gonna be ring-a-ding time for those bozo clothes.

Let's see. What else did I do for my birthday? Well, I went into the studio with Blue Scheme to record vocals for four hours. We actually finished the vocals for 10 songs last night, and with the two that we finished up at the last session, have the 12 songs done that we're going to use. Anything that needs touching up we'll do during the next session, where we'll actually begin mixing the songs. I may attempt to add some harmony tracks on a few of the songs. We got the songs done quickly, but at the same time I wonder if we should have gone the EP route at first, perhaps four to six songs. Cheaper, quicker, and easier to gauge demand with as opposed to going right to a full-length album. We can still burn EPs with what we've got, but then the other songs go to waste, and...ah well...such is life in a band, I suppose. I still don't really know what kind of band we are, or what kinds of bands we match up well with for shows, but given that, perhaps it's best left up to the audience at this point. Well, I don't entirely believe that, but I have nothing else to go on at the moment.

We'll get the demo/album mastered, but I doubt that we'll get it pressed. Perhaps it's my fear that we'll have 946 shrink-wrapped albums collecting dust in our corners. I don't have any illusions about getting radio airplay either—especially given that radio doesn't work the way it did in the 50s, what with today's versions of "legal payola." And aside from that, it's not that the songs aren't good, but it's more that they're not really mainstream radio songs. When your shortest song avoids the five minute mark by the slimmest of margins, you know you're in trouble. WXPN is probably our best bet for anything approaching a huge share of listeners, but even that would take some doing. So we'll give it our best shot at the appropriate time. All the same, I think it's possible for us to accomplish a lot in the early going without radio. Other Philly bands have had to make do without it, so we won't be any different.

It was after midnight by the time we got out of the studio, so my birthday was over. When I got home, it occurred to me that I hadn't eaten dinner, which instantly answered my internal question as to why I was sort of hungry. The late lunch was very filling, so it could have been a lot worse.

I don't plan on forgetting dinner today. Salmon sounds tasty.

:: Anam 1:59 PM [+] ::

:: Thursday, May 15, 2003 ::

Oil and toothpaste don't mix

I just read a Reuters article about how 10 percent of the big ocean fish are left (thanks Sevenblock!). You know: tuna, swordfish, marlin. Ransom Myers, a biologist at Dalhousie University in Canada said that "industrial fishing has scoured the global ocean." I expect that Washington will dispute that in one way or another, and propose that more studies be done before any action is taken. There's nothing wrong with additional studies—in fact, it wouldn't be smart to base any policy on a single study. However, I don't think that anything will be done in the interim. To say that since the 1950s when large-scale industrial fishing began, we have overfished to the point where we've removed 90% of the fish might be a bit drastic. Personally, I think it's possible and likely, but let's assume it's as low as 33%. One-third of the fish in the world's oceans is a lot of damage in a relatively short time. And the possibility that it's much, much worse is frightening. If you're not frightened, you should be.

I'm guessing that we'll put together a study, and then if we don't like the results of it, we'll do further studies until we get "desired" results, results that show that the oceans are just fine. There's a name for that: toothpaste statistics. You decide on a result that you want, and keep taking samples and studies until you get that result and then publish it. As far as I know, this was first popularized with toothpaste. A company wants to show that "4 out of 5 [dentists, adults, children, sea monkeys] prefer [brand of toothpaste] to the [leading, next leading] brand" so what do they do? Take a survey. What if only 2 out of 5 prefer it? Take another, and another, and another until you get 4 out of 5. Voila. The survey says 4 out of 5, so it must be so! Take that!

I've feared that right from the gate, our administration couldn't grasp the importance of our environment. Take the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Do we really have a pressing need to drill here? Alaska's senators, Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski, seem to think so. And of course they would. That's jobs created, it's money into the coffers. And it's important for states to have a good deal of say-so into whatever happens or doesn't happen there. But for God's sake, it's a wildlife refuge. We're supposed to leave it alone for the sake of wildlife, for the ecosystem. But many, I fear, will not be swayed. It's easy to romanticize nature and the environment, but it's not solely about that, drilling in ANWR just sets a bad precedent. And our administration has been pretty good at that. It's easy to forget how easy it is to destroy, and how difficult it is to create or to reconstruct. Well, actually, look at Afghanistan and Iraq if you need a reminder.

But back to ANWR. Honestly. There's no reason to drill there. It's a short-term fix, at best, and at worst, it probably won't fix much. Estimates range from a lot of oil to a little. I'll admit the possibility of there being quite a bit of oil embedded in the earth there. But any oil that's there is simply not going to be enough to satisfy our country's hunger for it. Average fuel efficiency for cars and trucks has fallen to the lowest level in 22 years, and instead of trying to raise it or keep it at bay, it keeps on falling. The government doesn't care. As long as Detroit continues to stuff money down the pants of both Dems and GOPers, no one is going to say a thing. And Americans as a whole don't seem to care, either. It's only slightly sexier than campaign finance reform. Just look at Hummers. After the novelty of telling your friends that "you're looking forward to getting a Hummer" has worn off, what do you have left? A behemoth of a vehicle that doesn't fit anywhere on the street, a surly metal beast that doesn't so much guzzle gas as it chugs it.

But as far as oil, the U.S. will always be able to get it. Why? Because it's not in OPEC's interest to rock the boat. They need prices to maintain a certain level in order to keep the standard of living where it is in their countries. What if a member country falls out of line? They won't. Trust me. The oil companies of the OPEC nations are mostly state-run monopolies, and OPEC is worried about Russia's nascent privatized oil industry cutting into their share of the world market. And undercutting them.

Entropy and chaos is where the universe longs to be. Even subatomic particles instinctively know this. As sentient beings, we have the ability to impose order for as long as we're willing to put in the energy. And this begs the question: are we willing to put in the energy and effort needed?

:: Anam 1:41 PM [+] ::

:: Wednesday, May 14, 2003 ::

I'd like to request an audience with the audience

Every now and again, people ask how I write songs. I answer that question differently every time, because my approach varies just as often. Sometimes I wish I understood it a little better myself. I'm sure there are people who almost always begin with lyrics, wordsmiths who swear by the power of meaning. And there are those who do the same with melodies and harmonies, who truly understand the power and nuances of pitch and tone, timbre, dynamics and so on. My perpetual struggle (or perhaps my fool's errand) has always been to find balance between the two. Of course, that's obvious, you might say. But as education is consistently undervalued and chronically underfunded, surface parking lots in Center City Philly are becoming as ubiquitous as cell phones and summertime weeds, and media companies are not only in bed with the government, they're leaving toothbrushes in the bathroom for each other, problems with obvious solutions hardly mean that the route to the solution is navigable. Often the road seems to dead end, with the destination in sight, in front of a bridge in the throes of neglect.

Over the past few months, I've been in something of a terrible song drought. I've had plenty of seeds, but not enough water and too few days of sun—enough ideas to start songs, but not enough to develop each song to its logical end. Though it's still slow going, I've been steadily coming out of it. I think a big reason is how I've recently been re-evaluating my songwriting approach and thinking towards the audience.

I think sometimes over the years I've been hesitant to give audiences the respect they deserve, in part because there have been audiences that didn't give me any in return, at least as far as I could tell, to be fair about it. Thinking about the audience recently has made me realize that I am a performer, and even though I've always been one, I don't think I ever realized it until I started fronting a band as a singer. As a classical pianist, I assumed a passive relationship with the audience: they were there and I was pleased about it, but at the same time, they were supposed to be there and I was supposed to be pleased. The early part of my jazz playing, I had a similar attitude toward the audience, but as I moved into college, it became strangely antagonistic. I'd become angry at the audience, didn't particularly care about them or for them, and to some degree, I hoped that they knew this. They probably didn't, given my aggressively affable demeanor. I could probably find some way to blame Swarthmore for this, but I'll refrain, at least for the time being.

During my senior year, I finally began to reflect on the nature of performance and an audience's role in it. I was invited to join a funk group called Dr. Booty, although the full title is worth mention: The Reverend Doctor Booty's Souldiddlyumptious Olde Time Revival Orchestra, featuring the Heavenly Host Horns. Eleven pieces: two female singers and a male singer, an alto sax, a tenor sax (the leader of the band), a trumpet, a percussionist, a bassist, a guitarist, a drummer (Ethan, from my list of friends at the top of the page), and me on keys. I often tell people that I've never felt as much like a star since then, and I wasn't even front and center. The nice thing about it was that everyone got a chance to shine. For our first show, almost all of Swarthmore came out to see us, and tons of folks from Bryn Mawr and Haverford, and from what I had heard, even Villanova, U. Penn. and Temple. Even at a show or rock concert, I'd never been in a mass of people that congested. And a mass of people that seemed to love us and love each other. Lot of love going around. I loved it. (Although I was never able to reap any benefits, so to speak, out of this. It's not so much a mystery to me as it is a shame.)

My relationship with audiences has evolved over the years, and I do hope that it continues to mature. There's still a bit of negotiation taking place within me about what it means to be a musician versus a performer, and I'm still working at successful ways to blend the two. It's important to me to be true to my musical vision and purpose, and I write music first and foremost for myself. But I've learned to love the audience more and more, and to embrace them and the energy that they give me. I'm still trying to learn to identify what they need and want from me at various times, and trying to learn a generosity of sorts: how to give them what they need and want even if I don't always get what I'm looking for from them. Some will say that graciousness and sincerity are nothing but good PR strategies. I believe that they're simply the right way to be.

I want people to feel what I feel, or at least be moved to some degree by seeing how deeply I believe in what I'm putting before them. Because I want them to come back. I want to see them again. And that's often amazingly hard to accomplish. Especially in this town.

:: Anam 1:32 PM [+] ::

:: Monday, May 12, 2003 ::

Things go better with Coke tea; and Loie Loie!

Although it’s no longer Mother’s Day, I must extend my best wishes to all of those who are mothers. Happy Mudders Day, to me mum and to all the mums out there.

I spent a good bit of this day doing music-related things, actually. (For those of you who might think that I neglected my mother, I’m taking her out to lunch on Thursday, which as strange twists of coincidence would have it, is my birthday. Should be a nice time.) I’m still working my way out of this musical drought, but ideas have been flowing freer recently. I played keys for a number of hours today, facing the window, drinking mugs of Puerh tea. This tea is something of an acquired taste. The first time I had it, I was expecting it to taste similar to other kinds of tea that I was familiar with, but this was more like drinking rainwater filtered through leaves lodged in the gutter. But I really like it now. Really.

Whenever I brew Puerh, I don't use a tea infuser. I just let them float freely so that the leaves can fully unfurl to extract as much flavor as possible. Sure, I could just not fill the tea ball all the way, but there's something different that I can't quite put my finger on about letting the leaves float in the cup or the teapot. But I decided to pull out the tea ball anyway so I could have some loose Ceylon tea (the tea is too fine to brew without the tea ball) that a coworker gave me for a Christmas present—she gave me the tea ball and a complementary saucer as well. She left at the end of 2002 for a better position, and I imagine that she's doing well in her new job. She's one of the most organized and efficient people I've met. And she's got a great memory, too. I thought it very thoughtful of her that she remembered how much I liked tea. The year before she bought me tools to make sushi with—she remembered that I'm a big fan of that, too.

This has been a fairly good weekend, up until now, when I came home and found my friend Noah still here. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except for the fact that it is a bad thing. He doesn’t have much of a sense of the time of day (or night) and the time to stop doing certain things. Case in point: he’s playing these three classical pieces that I’ve heard him play time and time again, except either twice as fast or half as fast and he plays it over and over using different instrument settings on the keyboard. I could just tell him to put the headphones on, but chances are that I’ll just tell him to get the hell out in a few minutes so I can unwind with some tea.

Where was I? This place in Rittenhouse Square called Loie, named in honor of Loie Fuller, with some friends. Questlove, the drummer from The Roots, hangs out there and tonight was no different. I often see him in the crowd at Sixers games whenever I watch them on TV—his awesome Afro makes him sort of hard to miss—and I wonder if he was in attendance at tonight’s playoff game between the Sixers and the Pistons (which the Sixers won, thankfully, to tie the series at two games each in a best-of-seven). He arrived after the game was over.

I’ve been going to Loie with a good friend of mine every Sunday for the past month and a half or so. The DJs do a night there called “Soul Travelin’” where they spin mostly 70s, 80s, and occasionally some 90s music. Soul, R&B, funk and disco—that kind of thing. Lot of fun. Lot of eye candy—for both sexes, although I think the women are probably more stylin’ than the guys. Hanging out at this place satisfies the more showy and outgoing part of myself, although I generally don’t do anything there that qualifies as showy or outgoing. Mostly I chat, drink, and watch the world go by. Ah, the sweet sexy world. Pardon me.

Blue Scheme—Noah, G. Posey, Tim, Tom, and yours truly—played a show at Fergie’s last night. Decent show, I think. I could be wrong. My energy wasn’t where I wanted or needed it to be last night, and I often fear that that lack of energy comes through. But the rest of the band played well, so even if I was terrible, I hope that everyone enjoyed the overall feel of things.

Tomorrow—well, later today is more accurate, I suppose—Noah and I will likely head over to Ferg’s for the open mic night. Usually just the two of us go since we’re the only ones who live in the city, and Pete sits in on drums and James “Super Duper” Cooper sits in on the bass. Pete runs the open mic night these days, and I’m also in Sugar Culture with him. He and James are also in another band called Old Roy, which is also the new house band at Fergie's. They’re excellent musicians and good friends of mine.

If I get to Fergie’s early enough, I might do a couple of solo songs. I don’t really do much simultaneous singing and playing these days, and I do enjoy doing that whenever I can. It’s funny—in Blue Scheme, I sing mostly and play keys a little; and in Sugar Culture, I just play keys and don’t sing at all. So singing and playing is a treat.

Well, enough of this. Time for tea. Time for bed. And time for Noah to get the Boot.

P.S. Actually, as it turned out, Noah left of his own accord. Another five minutes and the Boot would have been activated, but there was no need for it tonight. But there's always a next time...
:: Anam 2:30 AM [+] ::

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